This week, I will dive into the world of restricted free agents. These are players whose teams can match any offer made to them this summer, retaining that players services with or without their okay. The general rule for landing a restricted free agent is to go big or go home. You have to overpay for a restricted free agent, you have to make such a ridiculous offer that the players’ team wants nothing to do with matching it. It is not likely that the Bulls will overpay any of the players I am about to look at, but they are one of the few teams this summer with the salary cap space to do so. As of right now, the players in this guide are all under the age of 25. I figure it doesn’t make sense to overpay an older player when you are at the beginning of a rebuild, but younger players might find their primes just when the Bulls are ready to compete again. So without any further ado…
Chicago Bulls Free Agency 2018 Part 2: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost…
Chicago native and current Milwaukee Buck, Jabari Parker, has been the recent subject of many debates among Bulls fans ever since he began voicing his displeasure with the Bucks organization. Parker has been injured most of his short career, and has gone from Hero to Sidekick with the rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker seems frustrated in Milwaukee, and he might be trying to get out. Regardless of the personal issues with the Bucks, real or imagined, I don’t think Jabari will be playing for his hometown crowd any time soon. I suspect the Bulls don’t think he would fit in the Hoiberg offense. I think he would. He is a fantastic scorer and a nightmare match up on the offensive end of the court. At 6’8” and 250 lbs, the 23 year old is a beast of a big to guard. Too quick for most other bigs, too strong for undersized defenders, Parker both stretches the floor (35% on 3 pointers in his career) and finishes well in the paint (49% overall). He is excellent in the pick and roll, and very good in transition. An offense featuring Lauri Markkanen and Parker as the two bigs would be a formidable front line. Unfortunately, that’s where the good would end: on offense. Parker is not a great defender or rebounder, two aspects of his game that have always been sub par and haven’t improved much in his 3 seasons in the NBA. The other drawback to Parker is his extensive injury history. With the specter of Derrick Rose haunting the franchise, and this summers inevitable gamble on Zach LaVine, I don’t think the Bulls will be very interested in signing another player with knee issues. As fun as it might be to see him in a Bulls uniform, I think they need to pass on Parker.
In 2014, the Bulls selected Jusuf Nurkic 16th overall in the NBA draft, trading him and Gary Harris (the 19th pick in that same draft) to the Denver Nuggets for Doug McDermott later that same night. While McDermott has fizzled as a pro, Nurkic has steadily grown into a competent center. He is big (7’0”, 280 lbs), young (23 years old), and a gifted two-way player: Last season he scored 1132 points, grabbed 708 rebounds, and blocked 111 shots in 79 games. He is a traditional big (think Robin Lopez) but with the barest hint of panache. He has excellent touch around the rim, and has displayed decent passing skills. He would be the Bulls defensive anchor, giving much needed support to some of the weaker defenders on the team (read as “LaVine”). Nurkic’s current team, the Portland Trailblazers, will probably match almost any offer made to their prized big man. His constant growth, and strong help defense make him too good to lose. I don’t think the Bulls will be able to sign Nurkic, he will stay a Trailblazer.
One of the names floating in the NBA trade ether around deadline time was Julius Randle, the 23 year old power forward from the Los Angeles Lakers. The reason Randle’s name was being bandied about, is the well known “fact” that the Lakers are trying to clear salary space in order to sign one or two superstars this summer. This means the Lakers may not want to match any offer Randle is given this off-season, so he might be the easiest restricted free agent to sign! He is a lot like Jabari Parker in size (6’9” 250 lbs) and game. Like Parker, he is able to get around defenders on the perimeter with his speed and ball handling skills, and he powers through defenders when in the paint. However, while a slightly better rebounder than Parker, Randle is not an outside threat. He is shooting only 25% on 3 pointers for his career. This makes him much less of a fit for the Hoiberg offense than Parker. While he might prove to be the easiest restricted free agent to sign this summer, I don’t think the Bulls should be the ones doing the signing. I would pass on Julius Randle.
Nikola Jokic used to be a fat kid who played basketball for fun, now he might just be the second coming of Magic Johnson. The 23 year old Denver Nugget is a great passer (he averaged just over 6 assists a game last season). He has strength (10.7 rebounds), he has range (39.6% on 3 pointers), he has improved every season he has been in the NBA. 6’10” and 250 lbs is not the usual size for someone who averages 6 assists a game, but passing has always been a strength for Jokic. He is a natural point-center. His versatility is the reason the Denver Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic to the Trailblazers; they needed to get Jokic more playing time. He is also great at slipping screens and hitting 3’s in pick-and-pop plays. I smile when I imagine the tandem of Jokic and Markkanen on the perimeter, setting screens and hitting jumpers. Together, nothing could stop them. He would fit the Hoiberg offense. The Bulls should absolutely try to sign Nikola Jokic. Every team in the league should try to sign Jokic, that’s how good he might become. He is still young, but more importantly, the ceiling on his potential is nowhere in sight. He could be one of the greatest of all time. Unfortunately, Denver has already recognized Jokic’s potential; The Bulls should definitely make Jokic a max offer, but I’m pretty sure the Nuggets will match it, or any offer he gets.
One of the most electrifying restricted free agents on the market this summer is Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic. A 6’9” 220 lb forward, Gordon is a dynamic, athletic, scoring machine. He is only 22 years old and averaged over 17 points a game last season. He is the Magic’s best player, but, as the organization goes through more off-season turmoil with yet another coaching change, they might be willing to move on from him as the team restructures. Not a great outside shooter (he averages 30% from 3 point land), Gordon makes up for his lack of 3’s by beating defenders off the dribble and finishing at the rim, or kicking it out to his teammates. He is a showtime dunker, a shot creator, and a good kick-out passer. He wants the ball in his hands. His usage percentage (The percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor) has steadily climbed each season in the NBA (24.3% last season). All that being said, I don’t like his fit with the Bulls, especially if they re-sign Zach LaVine; the two would probably take turns getting their own shots, leaving Lauri, Portis, and anyone else on the floor, languishing on the perimeter. I don’t expect the Bulls to make Aaron Gordon any offers, and I would agree with that decision.
I’ve primarily focused on big men in this guide because I believe the Bulls are happy with the guards they have on the roster. There are a couple guards hitting restricted free agency I feel are worth looking at…
If the Bulls are interested in an unselfish, secondary ball handler to pair with LaVine or Kris Dunn, 22 year old Dante Exum of the Utah Jazz might be a good fit. When engaged in the game, he is a strong defender, capable of harassing even James Harden with his length and lateral quickness. Not a great perimeter shooter, he is a better scorer from mid-range and inside the paint. He is a willing passer who doesn’t turn the ball over a great deal. As Donovan Mitchell has taken over the majority of the point guard minutes for the Jazz, Exum has naturally seen his role diminish, but even as his minutes evaporate, Exum’s stats have modestly increased. I wouldn’t overpay to obtain Exum’s services, but he is an intriguing player that could see some significant improvement if given more of an opportunity to play. Who wouldn’t want an unselfish, secondary ball handler with defensive length (6’6” 190 lbs) and quickness? If the price is right, Exum might be worth a look.
The other guard on the restricted free agent market that has piqued my interest is the 6’0”, 195 lb Toronto Raptor Fred VanVleet. VanVleet went undrafted out of Wichita State, and had to work his way from the G-League to the end of the Toronto bench, becoming most dynamic rotation bench player on the Raptors. He is instant offense. A great shooter from beyond the arc, he averaged 41% on 3 pointers last season. He is a crafty finisher around the rim, using his small size and shooters touch to exploit any angle bigger defenders might give him in the paint. VanVleet is an excellent passer with great vision and a high basketball IQ. He is the captain of the offense, he makes it work. If the Bulls are even considering the possibility of drafting Trae Young, the highly touted, undersized, point guard prospect from Kansas State, then they should be seriously considering making Fred VanVleet an offer. While some people compare Young to Steph Curry, a better comparison might be VanVleet. So why not skip the 3 years of development and sign the finished product? VanVleet is a dynamic scorer, heady passer, and offensive leader, but, as “set” as they are at point guard, I doubt the Bulls will make him an offer. Toronto doesn’t seem very interested in parting with the 24 year old either. Fred VanVleet will not be a Bull this summer.
The final restricted free agent I will look at is my favorite: 24 year old Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets. If VanVleet is the finished Trae Young, then Capela is the finished Mo Bamba. Capela is not just a shot blocker, he is a shot eraser! He is the defensive anchor the Bulls need flanking Lauri Markkanen. He is tremendous in pick-and-roll offense. The problems he and Zach LaVine would cause as other teams tried to defend the PNR, that’s what I want to see! Capela is a very good screener, he uses his size (6’10” 240 lbs) and athleticism very well on the perimeter. He would fit in with the Hoiberg double screens, and off-the-ball screening actions so commonly used in the Bulls offense. The most underrated thing about Capela is his ability to run the floor in transition. He doesn’t hang out on the defensive side of the court during a fast break, he always makes an effort to get down the court. He is the trailing option, cutting down the center of the lane, looking for the easy finish at the rim. He gets a good number of put back dunks from running down the lane in transition. I want Clint Capela on the Bulls. He does not shoot the ball from beyond the 3 point arc, but his pick-and-roll game is so good that teams are forced to bring their bigs out to defend the perimeter, thereby creating the same space in the paint a proficient 3 point shooter might make. I don’t think the Houston Rockets will let Capela join another team this off-season, he is too important to James Harden, Chris Paul and how the team plays basketball, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls shouldn’t offer him a boat load of money. Clint Capela won’t be a Bull any time soon, but they should definitely make him a max offer.
That does it for the second installment of my free agency guide. Stay tuned for part 3, unrestricted free agents, coming sometime in the next few weeks. Next week on the RokDeez Bulls Blog: The NBA Draft Lottery… Where will the Bulls 1st round pick land?